Metta meditation under the microscope

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
Sylvester
Posts: 1651
Joined: Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:57 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 6

Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby Sylvester » Sat Mar 30, 2013 5:19 am

A rather well-known study of metta meditation from Fredrickson's team -

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156028/

From the conclusion -

Conclusion

One of the most deflating concepts facing positive psychology is the hedonic treadmill (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978): Even though positive and negative events (e.g., winning the lottery, becoming paraplegic) temporarily alter levels of happiness, people quickly adapt to them and return to a fixed emotional set-point. The hedonic treadmill, as classically stated, implies that all efforts to improve happiness are doomed to failure. Yet more nuanced research (Diener et al., 2006) indicates that adaptation is not necessarily inevitable and may be strongest for negative affect and weaker for positive affect and life satisfaction. The evidence reported here reveals that one way to outpace the hedonic treadmill is to begin a practice of LKM. Participants who invested an hour or so each week practicing this form of meditation enhanced a wide range of positive emotions in a wide range of situations, especially when interacting with others. We find these data especially promising. LKM appears to be one positive emotion induction that keeps on giving, long after the identifiable “event” of meditation practice.

Positive emotions feel good, and feelings like love, joy, and contentment can be valuable in and of themselves. Yet the broaden-and-build theory posits that natural selection sculpted our ancestors’ positive emotions to be useful in more far-reaching ways as well. These desirable states built resources that gave our ancestors’ an edge in circumstances that impinged on their survival. To our knowledge, this is the first experiment to provide clear support for the build hypothesis. By random assignment, one group of individuals began a mind-training practice that increased their positive emotions and, in turn, their personal resources and well-being. Just as the broaden-and-build theory predicts, then, when people open their hearts to positive emotions, they seed their own growth in ways that transform them for the better.


If your mindfulness of breathing is getting a little too dry, perhaps some metta as kusala sankappa (wholesome intention) would lubricate it.

Also from Fredrickson's team -

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3128334/

for a plausible mind-&-body connection.

Sylvester
Posts: 1651
Joined: Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:57 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 6

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby Sylvester » Sat Mar 30, 2013 5:25 am

A test done of a very small group (2 groups of 22 subjects), in an attempt to draw out the differences between anapanasati and metta meditation -

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3419705/

User avatar
Ben
Site Admin
Posts: 16352
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 1001
Location: Land of the sleeping gods
Contact:

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby Ben » Sat Mar 30, 2013 5:53 am

Thank you, Sylvester.
Interesting stuff!
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
Buddhist Life Stories of Australia
e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com

User avatar
BlackBird
Posts: 1861
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:07 pm
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 6
Location: New Zealand

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby BlackBird » Sat Mar 30, 2013 5:58 am

Fantastic. Every study they do seems to show positive results. Meditation rocks!
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 1006

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby danieLion » Sat Mar 30, 2013 6:09 am

Thanks Sylvester,

Makes a lot of sense to me. I usually begin with metta before I move on to anapanasati (which I learned from Thanissaro).

Sylvester
Posts: 1651
Joined: Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:57 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 6

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby Sylvester » Sat Mar 30, 2013 7:20 am

Hi DL

I think that's a good strategy, based on some anecdotal stuff I've heard about one of the side-effects of metta.

For those of us of a particularly raga-ish inclination, ie given to attraction/lust, quite a fair amount of energy might be expended on fighting the normal inclination to give in to that lust. Unfortunately, much of that energy could be fuelled by illwill towards lust/sensuality.

Thus have I heard that metta, in dissolving illwill, makes us more accepting of ourselves, warts and all. That might allow the raganusaya (latent tendency to passion) to re-surface. Maybe that's tied to metta's ability to over-ride the hedonic threadmill, as postulated by the first study cited.

If you look at the 3rd study cited, metta apparently does not have that much "oomph" when it comes to establishing attentiveness, since its forte seems to lie in the affective aspect. Anapanasati seems to trump metta when it comes to attentiveness. But anapanasati is notoriously dry; such being the quality of the equanimity that is established in place of sorrow and longing. It seems to be more conducive to pleasure when coupled with metta, ie as an attitude toward whatever flits into the observation.

User avatar
BlackBird
Posts: 1861
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:07 pm
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 6
Location: New Zealand

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby BlackBird » Sat Mar 30, 2013 7:54 am

Sylvester wrote:Thus have I heard that metta, in dissolving illwill, makes us more accepting of ourselves, warts and all. That might allow the raganusaya (latent tendency to passion) to re-surface. Maybe that's tied to metta's ability to over-ride the hedonic threadmill, as postulated by the first study cited.


Hence why some meditation instructions recommend not involving women (who aren't family) as subjects in one's metta practice.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

danieLion
Posts: 1947
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 4:49 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 1006

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby danieLion » Sun Mar 31, 2013 3:48 am

Sylvester wrote:Hi DL

I think that's a good strategy, based on some anecdotal stuff I've heard about one of the side-effects of metta.

For those of us of a particularly raga-ish inclination, ie given to attraction/lust, quite a fair amount of energy might be expended on fighting the normal inclination to give in to that lust. Unfortunately, much of that energy could be fuelled by illwill towards lust/sensuality.

Thus have I heard that metta, in dissolving illwill, makes us more accepting of ourselves, warts and all. That might allow the raganusaya (latent tendency to passion) to re-surface. Maybe that's tied to metta's ability to over-ride the hedonic threadmill, as postulated by the first study cited.

If you look at the 3rd study cited, metta apparently does not have that much "oomph" when it comes to establishing attentiveness, since its forte seems to lie in the affective aspect. Anapanasati seems to trump metta when it comes to attentiveness. But anapanasati is notoriously dry; such being the quality of the equanimity that is established in place of sorrow and longing. It seems to be more conducive to pleasure when coupled with metta, ie as an attitude toward whatever flits into the observation.

What I've discovered is that all five of the jhana factors, arise much more easily, quickly and are easier to sustain when I start with metta. But I've also learned that in certain moods it's better to end with metta as it's not conducive to one-pointedness--that is, I'll get, to say family and friends and start into daydreaming or storytelling. Lust doesn't really interfere though. Sometimes a lustful thought or image will pop up but it doesn't take much effort for me at all to knock it out of mind and it always stays away. I think that's because I always start with my teachers, then move on to myself, then family and friends/loved-ones (where lust for my wife would come in), then liked-ones, then neutral-ones, then disliked ones, enemies, people I'm in conflict with or ambivalent about, then people who've hurt me, then people who I've hurt, then all being, whatever beings there may be, than all-of-us. It usually only takes about ten to fifteen minutes. Sometimes I'll transition and/or sustain to breathing with "metta" as my mantra--"met" on the in; "ta" on the out; and sometimes if thoughts of ill-will come up later, I'll go back to this for a few.

Sylvester
Posts: 1651
Joined: Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:57 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 6

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby Sylvester » Sun Mar 31, 2013 4:53 am

That's good to hear DL.

I would just say that the thoughts or intention of metta, even if you deliberately "silence" it to move onto anapanasati, will create a momentum that carries over into and colours the satipatthana that follows. Unification comes more easily for me because of metta. Granted, when I start to sit, I don't pharami (radiate) the feeling and intention of metta outwards, but simply observe what it does to each of the 4 establishments. It was only after I changed to the "watching" method from the "radiating" method that I found concentration much easier.

The importance of of samma sankappa to the concentration aggregate is making me more appreciative of some of the Commentarial explanation of sampajanna in the satipatthana refrains on sati-sampajanna. The Comy posits, among others -

1. satthaka sampajanna - awareness of what's useful; and
2. sappaya sampajanna - awareness of what's beneficial.

Unsurprisingly, MN 44 classifies samma sankappa (right intention) under the aggregate of wisdom, together with right view. This seems to fall in line with MN 117 -

Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong resolve as wrong resolve, and right resolve as right resolve. This is one's right view. And what is wrong resolve? Being resolved on sensuality, on ill will, on harmfulness. This is wrong resolve.


It does appear that wisdom, when it arises, steers the satipatthana in an affective direction, away from longing and grief/abhijjadomanassa. At least in this strata of suttas, wisdom is portrayed functionally as aiding in guiding samatha, rather than poking around in vipassana.

I think I now understand why Ajahn Brahm suggest that meditation cannot be "choiceless awareness". The non-reactivity in satipatthana is actually a willed reaction. It's a mistake to think that the equanimity (not as hedonic tone, but as affective tone) is non-reactivity. It may be semantics, but equanimity is one possible manifestation of samma sankappa.

But, equanimity can only go so far. If one is aiming for a taste of the juicy flavours of jhana, this sutta suggests that more needs to be done -

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

User avatar
Kamran
Posts: 196
Joined: Fri Oct 07, 2011 3:14 am
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 1006

Re: Metta meditation under the microscope

Postby Kamran » Mon Apr 01, 2013 4:57 am

Thanks for the informative post.

It seems most instructions of metta meditation are derived from Visuddhimagga using discursive thought rather than using only the feeling of metta itself as the meditation object.

I would be interested in any resources on sutta-style metta. I have found slight mentionings of this style from Ajahn jaysaro, Bikhu Analayo, Ajahn Maha Chatchai, and Bhante Sujato, but nowhere near the amount of information that is available for the Visuddhimagga-style.

With breath meditation it takes some time before blissful feelings arise (if ever), but with the metta feeling object its very pleasant from the beginning, and according the Bhante Sujato, can allow you reach Jhana faster as a result.
When this concentration is thus developed, thus well developed by you, then wherever you go, you will go in comfort. Wherever you stand, you will stand in comfort. Wherever you sit, you will sit in comfort. Wherever you lie down, you will lie down in comfort.


Return to “Theravada Meditation”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: dhammarelax, Kim OHara, VinceField and 4 guests